The widespread technology allowing researchers to use mitochondrial DNA to follow genetic groups through history is rewriting some historical theories.
The Black Death continues to cast a shadow across England. Although the modern English population is more cosmopolitan than ever, the plagues known as the Black Death killed so many people in the Middle Ages that, to this day, genetic diversity is lower in England than it was in the 11th century, according to a new analysis. Rus Hoelzel at the University of Durham, UK and his colleagues looked at the mitochondrial DNA from human remains at 4th and 11th century archaeological sites in England, and compared them to samples from the modern population stored on DNA databases such as GenBank. They found there was more variation in the ancient mitochondrial DNA sequences than in modern sequences. [More]I can imagine the hysteria in the halls of history departments as chemists in a lab overthrow their neat doctoral thesis with a computer readout. Historians delight in inventing neatly plausible stories about what happened long ago and far away based on fragmentary and often implied evidence. These wonderful conjectures are suddenly being tested with history written in our cells.